Neighborhood schools going out of style?

​In my previous post, The Cloud Factor, I compare the uneven conditions affecting teaching and learning at my school, a small five-year-old public school in Brooklyn, with those of a KIPP charter school, where a former colleague of mine works. I argue that the job of teaching in these two disparate environments is not the same. I also suggest that it may not be fair to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers in these two schools with a single identical test, because of all of the “X factors” that teachers at my school must become adept at dealing with in order to survive and succeed. (One commenter pointed out that using a single measure of teacher effectiveness in two very different environments is not only unfair, but unscientific, because the teacher is not the only variable being measured. Nice point!)

I received some comments on my blog page, but also at other sites, such as the NYC-based Gotham Schools, suggesting that I transfer to a charter school, and one that even congratulated me on “my decision” to move to a charter school (this person misunderstood me: I’m not going anywhere). I appreciate that charter schools provide a variety of alternative models of education and think they play an important role in our country’s education system. If I were to start my own school, I would certainly weigh the benefits of opening a charter school over a regular public school because of the freedom charters can provide. As a teacher, freedom over my curriculum and methods and having a voice in decisions made at my school are really important to me. I left my first school with a broken heart when those opportunities were taken away from teachers in a frantic effort to raise standardized test scores.

Right now, however, NYC public schools that elect to be part of the “Empowerment Zone” have very similar freedoms to those of charter schools. Principals manage their own budgets entirely and can structure their schools and curriculum as they like, as long as they comply with the union contract and state standards. This freedom allows my school’s administration to create a progressive environment for teaching and learning. We have an unusually collaborative culture made possible by innovative scheduling and teacher-centered professional development as well as many opportunities for teacher voice and leadership in the ongoing shaping of the school. I have autonomy over my curriculum and opportunities to share best practices with and get constructive feedback from colleagues and administrators. (See my post “Excited About Teacher Leadership” for a better description.)

In the time that I’ve worked there (1.5 years), I’ve seen my school make siginificant progress toward offering a quality education to all of its students, which is why I have no plans to leave. I do wish to point out the particular conditions under which my school, its teachers, and its students make progress. We do so despite the x factors, which I think deserves some consideration.

As I described before, most charter schools seem to benefit from a few advantages that my school does not: the power to counsel out difficult students, and, in many cases, extra private funding to offset the inadequate public funding of schools serving high needs populations. (Urban schools with wealthier student populations usually have active PTO’s which raise lots of money from parents and the connections parents have, and in suburban areas these schools are adequately funded through property taxes.)

Now, a regular DOE school can receive private donations, right? But it seems to be far more common for charter schools to receive large-scale private funding. Why is this? Why don’t wealthy philanthropists “adopt” a neighborhood public school and help level the playing field there? Does starting or promoting a charter school carry a certain cachet that PS## or MS## doesn’t? Are regular public schools going out of style?

If so, what could be behind this? Could it be that funders feel (consciously or unconsciously) that charter schools will deliver faster surer results because they don’t have to work with non-compliant students (and/or parents) and don’t necessarily have to build relationships with the communities that surround them?

On the other hand, is private funding even a reasonable or viable way to ensure that every student gets a quality public education?

[image credit: thegreenguy.typepad.com]